Monday, August 12, 2013

Fig Fail, Jam Prevail

There’s an enormous fig tree in the front of a house a few blocks away from me. I had my eye on it last summer, when I put a note into house’s mailbox, introducing myself, and saying that if they didn’t have plans for the fruit I’d be happy to pick it for jams and pay them in finished jars. I didn’t hear anything, so I figured they wanted the figs for themselves. Fair enough.

So last week when I passed by the same house I was excited to see a realtor’s sign posted. I peeked in the windows and saw that the house was empty. I called the realtor number on the sign and asked if I could pick the figs. She said yes. I was soooo excited. I ran over to the local hardware store, picked a “fruit picker” (a glorified claw on the end of a metal rod) and picked about 6 lbs of figs. The ones I figured were ripe were the ones that basically fell off the branch when I nudged them.

I was so psyched. I researched my recipes (a balsamic fig jam and a chipotle fig jam), got all the ingredients together, started sterilizing my jars. I pulled the bag of figs out of the fridge, washed off a few, and cut them open. The perfume was lovely.

And then I tasted one. It was tannic, slightly bitter, and unripe. A total disappointment.

I’ve had fresh figs before—that were the same color as these. These didn’t taste remotely like those tender, fragrant, delicious fruits I remembered. They definitely weren’t going to perform well in the recipes I’d pulled up, which really needed the vibrancy of a fresh, ripe, luscious fig.

Why didn’t I taste it sooner than moments before I was about to plunge them into the jam frenzy? I should have as soon as I picked the first one. It was stupid. But I’d never had this kind of issue with fruit before when picking it off the tree. I guess I figured they were ripe because they were literally rotting off the tree, and I was picking ones that practically fell into my hand.

So I turned to google. Apparently…having them fall from the tree without truly ripening was a common problem, especially in cooler climates like Seattle. Okay then. What should I do with these, if anything? I found a recipe for pickling them that required lye. Not appealing to me. Others were candied in syrup…but I read mixed reviews of the results. David Lebovitz suggested to a reader that unripe figs could possibly be jammed…but he warned that it was often impossible to get true fig flavor out of an unripe fig. He suggested cooking some in sugar and seeing what happened. So I chopped about 5 or 6, tossed in some sugar and lemon juice and cooked them down.

It was….okay. Not what I’d want to spend a couple hours working over and putting up multiple jars of. And with just a hint of the fig flavor I’d been looking forward to.

So…I tossed the figs, let my sterilized jars wait on the stove, and went to Magnusson to pick blackberries.

I picked 4 ½ pounds of blackberries in 2 hours. It was a gorgeous day.

And then I made jam with some and froze the rest.

I think I’ll make some blackberry lavender jam later this week, and maybe some blackberry ginger jam as well.


  1. I made panna cotta when I had some friends over for dinner last weekend. I couldn't believe I had never made it before: it was so easy. And perfect with blackberry coulis!

    1. Oooooo. That sounds delicious! I've always been tempted to try it but never had. Maybe I'll do that next weekend! Yum.